TORONTO — As countries around the world start re-imposing coronavirus restrictions amid spikes in new cases, Canadian politicians and health officials are warning that parts of the country may soon enter a second shutdown.
However, infectious disease physician Dr. Zain Chagla says the second lockdown will not look like the first.
“We’re very different than we were in March, we had no clue how deep this was going to spread into our communities, there was hospital issues in terms of health care utilization, and we really had limited testing and didn’t really understand where this disease was transmitted within our community,” Chagla explained in an interview with CTV’s Your Morning on Thursday.
“So we had to really do something very global to get things to work.”
Now, Chagla said provincial health authorities have a better grasp on what measures work in mitigating the risk of COVID-19.
While Canada’s case numbers are rising, Chagla said the country has access to reasonable testing, healthcare systems aren’t currently overloaded and both the public and officials understand that private, indoor gatherings are largely contributing to the spread of the virus.
He added that having these factors under control gives Canada the opportunity to thoughtfully prepare for a second wave and another possible shutdown.
“We have the luxury of sitting here and actually making some very precise changes to see if we can keep transmission down afterwards, rather than putting everyone through what we did in March and April,” Chagla said.
To avoid a repeat scenario, he explained that policymakers need to keep COVID-19 messaging positive and consistent, plan creative long-term solutions for outdoor facilities, and closely monitor allowable gathering sizes.
“We’re going to have ebbs and flows but these sorts of solutions, what we’re going to be doing for the months and going into the winter and even further than that, are going to have to be sustainable and so that’s where the positive messaging comes from,” Chagla said.
Chagla added that there is a misconception about who is transmitting the virus. He says “there’s a big thought” that recent spikes are all young people that are partying together but in reality, “it’s still families that are having get-togethers” such as weddings and other celebrations where the virus is spreading.
“All of us kind of need to be messaged positively to say ‘OK, [COVID-19] is still here. We can protect our communities. We can do things safely’,” he said.
To help with this, Chagla said outdoor facilities and restaurants need to be better equipped to allow Canadians to safely socialize especially as the country heads into the winter months.
“Making more outdoor facilities gives us the recognition that we need to socialize. We need to actually be around people and there is a way to do it safely with a few more layers, but sparing what’s going to happen to the medical system,” Chagla said.
Additionally, Chagla said policymakers should not impede Canadians’ ability to get tested, but also not encourage over-testing.
As long lines are being reported at COVID-19 testing centres across the country, the federal government has pledged billions in funding to address the issue and improve other pandemic measures.
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch told CTV News Channel that the testing wait times stem from a combination of factors, including limited testing capacity and an increased desire from the population to receive a test.
Bogoch said in an interview on Thursday that these factors need to be addressed amid the current rise in cases.
“The capacity currently is significantly better than what it was in for example March or April of this year, but clearly it’s not where it needs to be,” he said.
New testing centres have recently opened in Edmonton and Laval, Que. while another is slated to open soon in Brampton, Ont. However, Bogoch said this still might not be enough.
To address the capacity issue, Bogoch said provinces may have to change their messaging around testing.
“Given the snapshot that we’re in right now, maybe it’s best for messaging to focus on people to get tested if they’re either at risk for getting this infection, if they have any signs or symptoms of infection regardless of how mild, or if they’ve had any possible exposures to this infection,” Bogoch explained.
“Certainly those individuals should be prioritized, but in the same breath of course, you shouldn’t be turned away from a testing centre,” he added.
Amid the testing issues, Chagla says monitoring gathering sizes remains key in managing Canada’s recent COVID-19 spikes.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford is expected to announce that the province will lower limits on social gatherings in its hotspots to stem recent increases in COVID-19 cases. Ford said that the “highest fines in the country” will be put in place to stop people from breaking the regulations but Chagla says the move does not go far enough.
“I think that’s a good symbolic gesture, but there does need to be some enforcement unfortunately for some of these people that take things out of control and lead to a significant public health event,” Chagla said.
Bogoch told CTV News Channel that rolling back gathering limits in Ontario’s hotspots is the “right move.”
“We clearly can’t continue on at the status quo, and there clearly needs to be measures to limit transmission, especially in Toronto, Peel and Ottawa. That’s a smart move,” Bogoch said in an interview on Thursday.
He added that the province will see some benefit from the rollback, if the implementation of the new gathering limits are clearly communicated and enforced.
While Ontario rolls back its gathering limit, Bogoch said other provinces experiencing outbreaks should follow suit.
“We’re seeing widespread community transmission in four provinces. Clearly, we need to clamp back down to get this virus under control,” he said.
“What does clamp down mean? It’s not entirely clear. Different provinces are taking different steps, but it’s obvious that we need to take action now to prevent these cases from rising.”
Last week in Quebec, the government said police can hand out tickets, ranging between $400 and $6,000, to those who don’t have a face covering in indoor public spaces or on public transit.
The province also announced several measures in addition to the fines, including the banning of karaoke and obliging bars to keep registers of clients as infection numbers rise.
In response to its increase in cases, B.C. ordered the immediate closure of nightclubs and banquet halls and reduced restaurant hours last week after daily COVID-19 case numbers were consistently above 100.
“I think we need to all start rethinking about what we need to do to get us through the next few months as a community together, and these are some of the things that we’ll need to put aside for now,” B.C. health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry explained at a news conference.
Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam reminded Canadians at a press conference on Tuesday to take precautionary measures if they must socialize, including having hand sanitizer readily available, wearing masks or other face coverings, and cleaning common areas before and after the event.
“The key message is that the time to act is now across the board in terms of reducing some of the contacts you’ve had over the summer months,” Tam said.